Editor’s blog: Making room for the arts

Ebacc and STEM focus risk seeing arts, sport and music as second-class subjects, says Stephanie Broad

I should start by saying that I’m biased, having studied Performing Arts at university before entering the heady worlds of marketing and publishing. After fending off jibes about taking a ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject from peers at school, on entering higher education I was vindicated in seeing that my peers were highly creative, driven and competitive. Students wanted to be there and they wanted to work hard. It’s much harder to disappear from an intense two-hour acting workshop than bunk off a lecture with 200 people.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) was introduced in 2010 and the government expects pupils who started year seven in September 2015 to take EBacc subjects when they reach their GCSEs in 2020. Expressive arts have been excluded from the EBacc, on the grounds that the programme is for ‘academically rigorous’ subjects. This goes to show how, already, creative subjects are undervalued. In contrast, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), which is growing in popularity in the independent sector, covers eight subject areas including training in arts, physical education and design.

Creative skills are essential for tomorrow’s workforce. In his book The Arts Dividend: Why Investment in Culture Pays, chief executive of Arts Council England Darren Henley, says: “Studying cultural education subjects such as Art and Design, Dance, Drama and Music in the classroom should be a part of every child’s education throughout their schooling… The benefits of a sound cultural education are wide ranging, developing a child’s knowledge, understanding and skills.”

Arts subjects such as music, drama, art and design teach emotional strength, resilience, team work, communication (physical, verbal and written), resourcefulness, problem-solving and organisation. But it’s not just about transferable skills. In an increasingly academic, results-driven climate, arts and sports subjects offer a creative and physical outlet, to get away from the desk and outside, moving around, learning in stimulating ways. These subjects are assessed, but away from the traditional confines of the classroom.

There’s a lot of talk in the education sector, quite rightly, about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, which are helping train the workers of tomorrow that UK industry needs. However, universities and employers frequently quote soft skills such as creativity, communication, group work and problem solving as the qualities they look for in graduates. So I propose that we add the arts into our favourite acronym buzzword and start talking more about ‘STEAM’.

A petition to add expressive arts subjects to the EBacc, which received over 102,000 signatures, was recently debated in parliament. You can read the transcript here and watch the meeting on Parliament Live here.

Stephanie Broad is editor of Independent Education Today, Independent School Sport, Building 4 Education and Academy Today.